The Empire State Building Experience – Visiting the Top of Manhattan!

One of the most iconic buildings in the world the Empire state building is still towering above almost everything else in Manhatten. An incredibly popular tourist destination many people want to go to the top of the Empire State Building when they visit New York. The Empire State Building Experience is the only way you can summit the Empire State building to experience not only one of the best views in New York but quite possibly one of the best views in the world!

The Empire State Building Experience

The Empire State Building Experience

  • Height: 86th Floor and 102nd Floor
  • Cost:  Adults: $37-39 Seniors (62+): $35-37 Children (6-12): $31-33    102nd Floor : $20 Extra
  • Location: Midtown, 5th Avenue 34th Street MAP
  • Prominent Landmarks: Downtown Manhattan, Chrysler Building.
  • Indoor or out: Both


Nothing in life is simple and the empire state building is no exception. You can’t just go to the top of the building you need to choose from a number of different options here are the main basic choices you are faced with.

Main Deck

  • Cost:  Adults: $37-39 Seniors (62+): $35-37 Children (6-12): $31-33 Kids under 6 Free
  • Express: $65-70 All Visitors

This is the Vanilla option and the most popular, you only go as far as the 86th floor but this is still one of the highest points in the City. The observation deck on this floor is large and has outdoor viewing areas. All other options will visit this floor first and are in additions to it not instead.

For most, this is more than enough The additional options are Icing on the cake but the main deck itself is a superb experience and will truly make you feel on top of the world.

Express Pass – Don’t like queuing? then the express pass will get you straight past any queues and straight to the top at $65-70 depending on the season it’s not cheap though.

time square at night

Main Deck and 102nd Floor

  • Cost: All Visitors $20 MORE than a standard 86th Floor Ticket
  • Express: $85-94 All Visitors

With this option, you are also given access to a separate elevator to whisk you up to the very top of the tower the 102nd floor. The observation Deck here is much smaller and fully enclosed. Really the experience is less special than the lower 86th-floor deck with its large outdoor viewing terraces. But as you get that experience as well the only question is is the extra worth it to you. Really it’s only worth the bragging rights to say you have been RIGHT to the top, doing so doesn’t actually get you anything over the main deck.

Sunrise Experience

  • Cost: All Visitors $100 only 100 sold per day. Limited dates available.

The sunrise experience is quite a pricey trip, but it doesn’t just get you to the top to witness the sunrise, which while special would not be worth the $100. But instead, it’s a very limited number of people allowed on the experience. Only 100 people can book per morning. But in reality at $100 a person it very rarely books up so there will be very few people up there when the sun makes its appearance. This also means NO queueing a very exclusive experience in general. It’s a lot of money and may require a very early start but it is a very special thing to witness the sun come up oveManhattenen. While most of the colour and spectacle can be found at sunset for a fraction of the cost but you better get there early as sunset is easily the busiest time of day and the deck can be VERY crowded.

This Experience is especially suitable if you maybe have a ring to give someone? She won’t be forgetting this in a hurry!

Premium Experience

  • Cost: All Visitors $275 Weekdays only, Not available at peak times.

The Premium Experience is a Private (7people max) Guided 90-minute tour, giving you exclusive access to the building and absolutely no queues whatsoever. Honestly, we have never done it. It doesn’t strike us as value for money and we don’t mind slumming it with the General public because we are the general public. For anyone pushing the boat out, this could be a good option. We are sure if a proposal was involved the guide would leave you alone at the top for a while.

AM/PM Experience

  • Cost: All Visitors $53.25-54.75 (not available at Peak Times)
chrysler and night

Day and night Scenes from the 86th Floor

As we will come to later most experience’s can be done either day or night. And really we still don’t know which we prefer. They are both incredible and both unique. Do you see the dramatic skyline in all it’s sunlit glory or do you want to see it sparkling at night like a scene from a sci-fi movie? We find it very hard to choose. The AM/PM experience solves this issue. It gives you two trips to the top one during the day one at night. Perfect.

Btw If you choose a New York CityPASS you get a “same day return” at night as well included in the price.

The Empire State Building Experience is also included in a number of other New York City Passes to help save you money while visiting Read our comparison here for which pass will suit you best.


The first job is to head to the main entrance. You will be bombarded with touts offering you reduced price tickets to the top. As you have wisely pre-bought your tickets you don’t need to consider their scams. The entrance to the Building is down 5th Avenue, not the front of the building on 34thSt.

As you enter the Iconic Lobby be prepared to be amazed for the first of many times in the next hour or so. You will instantly recognize the lobby from multiple Film and TV appearances. Just being in the Lobby is almost enough but you need to head right, up the escalator as you begin your trip to the top.

Our Trip to the Top

Here we hit the first hurdle, Airport Style security metal detectors. The Queue here can take a little time to get through but as long as you do not hear at a Crazy busy time like just before sunset it should be OK, say 5-10 mins. Next up is the ticketing. This queue can appear long and daunting, but as you pre-booked as we suggest or have a City pass You are diverted to the left and skip this queue completely. You are now in a worryingly long queue area, however, every time we have been this area, capable of holding maybe 1000 people has been completely empty and just a walk through until you get to the first lift. There are multiple displays and exhibits along the way which would help pass the time if the queue was enormous.

We find the Lift Queue the only real Queue on the way to the top. But it’s not normally too horrific 15minutes is really the max you should ever have to wait. Normally a lot less. You then enter the lift where a bellhop will ride with you to the 82nd Floor. This is the main lift and you will be travelling a long way up in a very short time. The speed of the lift is quite incredible. However, for anyone afraid of lifts it doesn’t in anyway feel any different to a normal slower lift, in fact, it’s quite sedate. Apart from the Floor numbers whizzing by and the fact you are so high up when it’s done you really wouldn’t know there was anything special going on at all.

You are now 82 Floors up on one of the worlds highest buildings. The 82nd floor is completely enclosed and hosts the Dare to Dream Exhibit. The Views here a staggering, The concrete jungle sprawling out endlessly for miles. The Exhibit is about the construction of the building and its race with the Chrysler building and is all pretty interesting. You will be eager to catch the final elevator up to the main deck but it’s worth spending a little time here, after all, you have paid to get in there is no rush so you may as well get your money’s worth.

Finally, you head for the lift to the 86th floor’s main deck. As you emerge you enter the indoor area which is frankly dull an uninspired. Head straight outside to the observation deck for views that will blow you away. Whatever time of day the vista over the island of Manhatten is genuinely breathtaking. We are big nature lovers and love a fantastic natural landscape. This could not be further from that but the sheer magnitude of what man has constructed here is beyond description. Even Photo’s don’t come close to portraying the vastness of never-ending concrete.

Vertical Pano empire state

Vertical Panorama from the 86th Floor Observation Deck

After Taking in your fill of incredible views taking the obligatory selfie, using the binoculars and filling your cameras memory cards it’s time to head down. The reverse trip can almost take as long as the climb as you will still need to queue for the elevators. But by now any queue stress has vanished as you absorb the incredible views you just witnessed.

How Long to get to the Top?

Times can vary drastically depending on the time of day and season. But it’s a good 15-30 mins even with little to no queue depending on how long you linger at exhibits. At Busy times expect upwards of an hour wait as you make your way up. Especially at sunset during busy times give yourself a lot of time to get to the top as it would be terrible to miss the big moment.

On the Empire State Buildings main website, it lists the current time to the top. Just below the main Title bar on any page. It rotates between “open 865 days – 8 AM – 2 PM” and the actual time to the top. If it’s missing it’s probably because the tower is closed. Maybe you are in a different time zone?

Tips and Advice

View west empire state

It’s Cold – In winter New York can be bitterly cold. However whatever it feels like on the ground is a patch on what it’s like 1200 feet of the ground. It’s colder, it’s windier and unless you are wrapped up warm it’s Going to be Miserable. Naturally in Summer when it’s Scorching this will be no Issue.

Leave the Tripod in the Hotel – Photography Tripods are not allowed. And you will be turned away. There is nowhere to store them so you will have to return to your hotel to store before coming back again. There is Airport-style security so you won’t get away with it. Small Monopods or a Gorilla Pod should get through but big tripods are out sorry.

Use the toilets – on the 82nd Floor before going up to ensure time at the top is maximised.

Avoid the Photos – The Souvenir photos provided put you in front of the empire state! It is clear it’s a photoshop backdrop as well you were supposed to be on it not in front of it. It’s all a bit naff and overpriced too.

Offer to take A photo – If you see a couple struggling to take a selfie off to take a photo, They will be sure to offer to return the favour, but offering first seems less of an imposition.

When To Go?


This is really a two-part question. When to go for the best view or when to go for the least queues.

The best time to go for views is Sunset. Pure and simple. You get to see the city on it’ss full daylight glory followed by incredible colours at dusk and finally as it lights up in its full nighttime glory. However, for queues, this is the absolute worst time to go. You are not the only one to work out the beauty of Sunset.

Booking the $100 Sunrise tour would certainly solve this issue but at an immense $ cost. While the AM/PM Experience gives you both the night and day views, you lose the colour of dusk. If you insist on the full spectacle of sunset but refuse to queue for it simply buy the Express Pass, costing between $65-70 depending on the season. If that’s too much you have no choice but to wait in line. Check the EPSB website for a few days prior to get an idea of how long the trip to the top will take at your chosen time so you can ensure you make it for sunset.

If you simply want the quickest time to the top then plan on going early or late. Getting there at 8 AM almost guarantees no queue and a fairly empty upper deck. as the morning goes on the queues build and build as only SO many people can be on the deck at once they have to wait until one lift comes down to send another up. This is, of course, an issue at sunset as if everyone up there is waiting for sunset no one is coming down. You could be stuck in the queue area a not get up till it’s dark and people start heading down.

While 8 AM is optimum any time before 9-9:30 should be good at all but the busiest times. After that the later you go after dark the quieter it will be. It’s pretty magical up there really late at night. and the queues can be deserted. Heading up after dinner and few drinks (not too many!) can be an amazing end to a great night!

Our perfect approach to this will see you get all three views of Manhatten with practically no queues whatsoever. We used the New York CityPASS As this offers a “same day return” to see the tower at night.

First thing after breakfast head to the tower you will go straight up with little to no queue. You then have the whole day to do whatever you fancy. Then after dinner head up again, again you will enjoy almost zero queues. For sunset, We prefer the Top of the Rock, also included in the CityPASS. as these tickets are timed they are limited so you can’t miss sunset due to too many people being at the top. Simply go the day before to book your time slot, and tell the assistant you wish to be there for sunset and they will provide the correct timed ticket. The timing system means there is never much queueing at the Top of the rock.

While we use the CityPASS you could do the same with AM/PM and a standard Top of the Rock Ticket. But that would cost almost as much as a CityPASS and the latter gives you a lot more besides.


top of the rock

Empire State building is quite a bit higher than Top Of The Rock

There a 3 main observation decks in New York. The Empire State, the Top Of the Rock, and the One World Observatory. All have their pros and cons. Our favourite is really Top of the Rock the View is just SO good. But there is something so iconic about going up the empire state building if we could only do one it would still be Empire State. The new one World is a distinct 3rd place. Read our full comparison for more info.

Where to Buy?

There are many options and Reseller for buying tickets but the operator rarely allows much discount and as such we would advise simply buying directly from the Empire State buildings main webpage. If saving money is a big draw for you see below as a City pass could save you quite a bit.

Readers from the UK can buy from a UK Reseller to ensure they have a bit more comeback than they would buying in Dollars direct from a US Site. is a trusted reseller. However, you may save a few £ buying direct.

City Pass’s

We always use a City Pass when visiting a major city as we find them incredibly useful in getting the most out of the City. New York and many different options and we cover those in detail here. All of the passes allow entry to the Empire State Building, as really, who doesn’t want to go up this iconic tower.

top of the empire state

Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the experience? Have you already been to the top? what did you think? What experience did you go for? Feel free to leave a comment if you have anything you would like to add. We would love to hear from you.

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